Friday, August 29, 2008

early lessons in diversity...

I caught the scent of baby powder in the breeze today and it made me think of Grace Betty.

Grace Betty was my first Cabbage Patch Kid. It was Christmas, 1983, and I was five years old. Coleco had mass-marketed the Cabbage Patch Kid as the "it" toy for every little girl. There were riots in toy stores, akin to the 1996 Tickle Me Elmo craze. My parents were always strapped for cash and shopped last minute, but tried to get us kids what we most wanted each year. And what I most wanted was to adopt a Cabbage Patch Kid.

In smalltown ohio, the population was 99.99999% caucasian and .00001% hispanic/asian. And by the time Santa my mom made it out to the toystore to purchase the doll of my every five-year-old desire, the only dolls left on the shelf were African American. and so - Grace Betty came to me through a quite progressive inter-racial adoption. Her cloth skin, yarn hair and painted eyes were brown and her bulbus plastic head smelled - oddly - of baby powder. She didn't look anything like me... but she was mine. ...and no power in the universe, not even a cheeky older brother - could sever my love for her. (note, also - I quickly discovered that the large plastic head attached to the soft cloth body made Grace Betty an apt weapon against my brother's various torments.) Grace Betty didn't seem to mind this - and so she was my baby, my heroine and the bruiser of my annoying older brother.

I don't know if this simple happenstance made it easier for me to adapt as my smalltown grew and accepted its first African American families. I'm not certain of the impact of Grace Betty on my views on racial equality and social justice. But I think maybe in some small way - she's always been there as a reminder... a reminder of my parents' love and courage, and their refusal to sway to social stereotypes. ...and it makes me think that one day I will buy my own daughter baby dolls of different races - so she can learn to love all people.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

the competitive edge

my navy blue speedo suit stretches over the area just north of the great white thighs, I don my super-sexy swim cap and new hot pink goggles and plunk... into the pool.

Morning swimmers are an interesting breed. there's the old(er) woman who, let's admit - has better form than me; one or two men who would tell you they are rehabing an injury from some sport that seems more masculine; a few young whipper-snappers, either still in, or barely out of college - slicing through the water like torpedoes... and me. But, three mornings this week, I have dutifully shown up at the pool to swim laps.

It turns out I'm a bit competitive. (I know - it's ridiculous) It's difficult for me to just concentrate on the line on the bottom of the pool coming to a T as I near the wall. I steal glances at the rotund white -haired man in the lane next to me shod with flippers that give him what seems to be remarkable speed. I tell myself I should be faster than him, even without the flippers. I swim faster. I pull my own rotund body through the water and quickly flick my head to the side to steal a breath between strokes. And of course - as I come weary to the wall, huffing... he arrives and gently turns with his flippers, head above water, and starts back up the pool.

I am aiming low. for now - he is my nemesis... and we will meet again tomorrow.

Friday, August 1, 2008

humility, pride and voice lessons

Bend your knees every time you breathe.
Yes, like a plie.
and don't let your jaw go back. Breathe deeply,
and let's speak the line before you sing it

anyone who has ever taken voice lessons knows that when walk in, you leave your pride at the door. humility humiliation is at least 80% of what is taking place. Thankfully, Ben is willing enough to demonstrate, so I don't feel like a complete fool as we make faces at each other and add body movements designed to release tension, increase breath support and improve posture and balance.

It's an interesting exercise in breeding confidence; trust that the sounds emanating from my face do not actually echo those of a skein of geese. My own sense of vulnerability reaching its fullness when, as the lesson comes to a close, the door is opened only to discover the five or six multitudes of students and music school faculty within earshot outside the unfortunately thin wood door. But, I emerge and looking none of them in the eye, usher forth to the stairs and the door and the outside world telling myself that Ben would not lie to me, that history has not lied to me... that I can sing, quite beautifully... (when all the elements in the world and those the unconscious space around us come into perfect alignment).